Monday, December 6, 2010

Phil Berrigan presente!/The Palestinians of Israel are poised to take centre stage




Today, December 6, 2002, Eight years gone. In loving memory, our dear friend, Philip Berrigan (Oct. 5, 1923 - Dec. 6, 2002). 

He is still with us every day as we gather and work for peace, stand in nonviolent resistance to war and the war-makers, and join hands for justice. Phil Berrigan, Presente! For more,  visit


The Palestinians of Israel are poised to take centre stage


With the peace process going nowhere, common experience

on both sides of the Green Line is creating a new reality


Seumas Milne

Wednesday 10 November 2010


In a quiet street in the Sheikh Jarrah district of

occupied East Jerusalem 88-year-old Rifka al-Kurd is

explaining how she came to live in the house she and

her husband built as Palestinian refugees in the 1950s.

As she speaks, three young ultra-orthodox Jewish

settlers swagger in to stake their claim to the front

part of the building, shouting abuse in Hebrew and

broken Arabic: "Arab animals", "shut up, whore".


There is a brief physical confrontation with Rifka's

daughter as the settlers barricade themselves in to the

rooms they have occupied since last winter. That was

when they finally won a court order to take over the

Kurd family's extension on the grounds that it was

built without permission - which Palestinians in

Jerusalem are almost never granted. It is an ugly

scene, the settlers' chilling arrogance underpinned by

the certain knowledge that they can call in the police

and army at will.


But such takeovers of Palestinian homes in Sheikh

Jarrah have become commonplace, and the focus of

continual protest. The same is true in nearby Silwan,

home to upwards of 30,000 Palestinians next to the Old

City, where 88 homes to 1,500 Palestinians have been

lined up for demolition to make way for a King David

theme park and hundreds of settlers are protected round

the clock by trigger-happy security guards.


Throughout the Arab areas of Jerusalem, as in the West

Bank, the government is pressing ahead with land

expropriations, demolitions and settlement building,

making the prospects of a Palestinian state ever more

improbable. More than a third of the land in East

Jerusalem has been expropriated since it was occupied

in 1967 to make way for Israeli colonists, in flagrant

violation of international law.


Israel's latest settlement plans were not "helpful",

Barack Obama ventured on Tuesday. But while

US-sponsored Israeli-Palestinian negotiations go

nowhere and attention has been focused on the brutal

siege of Gaza, the colonisation goes on. It is also

proceeding apace in Israel proper, where the demolition

of Palestinian Bedouin villages around the Negev desert

has accelerated under Binyamin Netanyahu.


About 87,000 Bedouin live in 45 "unrecognised"

villages, without rights or basic public services,

because the Israeli authorities refuse to recognise

their claim to the land. All have demolition orders

hanging over them, while hundreds of Jewish settlements

have been established throughout the area.


The Israeli writer Amos Oz calls the Negev a "ticking

time bomb". The village of Araqeeb has been destroyed

six times in recent months and each time it has been

reconstructed by its inhabitants. The government wants

to clear the land and move the Bedouin into designated

townships. But even there, demolitions are carried out

on a routine basis.


At the weekend, a mosque in the Bedouin town of Rahat

was torn down by the army in the night. By Sunday

afternoon, local people were already at work on

rebuilding it, as patriotic songs blared out from the

PA system and activists addressed an angry crowd.


The awakening of the Negev Bedouin, many of whom used

to send their sons to fight in the Israeli army,

reflects a wider politicisation of the Arab citizens of

Israel. Cut off from the majority of Palestinians after

1948, they tried to find an accommodation with the

state whose discrimination against them was, in the

words of former prime minister Ehud Olmert,

"deep-seated and intolerable" from the first.


That effort has as good as been abandoned. The Arab

parties in the Israeli Knesset now reject any idea of

Israel as an ethnically defined state, demanding

instead a "state of all its people". The influential

Islamic Movement refuses to take part in the Israeli

political system at all. The Palestinians of '48, who

now make up getting on for 20% of the population, are

increasingly organising themselves on an independent

basis - and in common cause with their fellow

Palestinians across the Green Line.


Palestinian experience inside Israel, from land

confiscations to settlement building and privileged

ethnic segregation, is not after all so different from

what has taken place in East Jerusalem and the West

Bank. After 1948, the Palestinians of Jaffa who

survived ethnic cleansing were forced to share their

houses with Jewish settlers - just as Rifka al-Kurd is

in Jerusalem today. The sense of being one people is deepening.


That has been intensified by ever more aggressive

attempts under the Netanyahu government to bring

Israel's Arab citizens to heel, along with growing

demands to transfer hundreds of thousands of them to a

future West Bank administration. A string of new laws

targeting the Palestinian minority are in the pipeline,

including the bill agreed by the Israeli cabinet last

month requiring all new non-Jewish citizens to swear an

oath of allegiance to Israel as a Jewish state.


Pressure on Palestinian leaders and communities is

becoming harsher. A fortnight ago more than a thousand

soldiers and police were on hand to protect a violent

march by a far-right racist Israeli group through the

Palestinian town of Umm al-Fahm. The leader of the

Islamic Movement, Ra'ed Salah, is in prison for

spitting at a policeman; the Palestinian MP Haneen

Zoabi has been stripped of her parliamentary privileges

for joining the Gaza flotilla; and leading civil rights

campaigner Ameer Makhoul faces up to 10 years in jail

after being convicted of the improbable charge of

spying for Hezbollah.


Meanwhile Israel is also demanding that the Palestinian

leadership in Ramallah recognise Israel as a Jewish

state as part of any agreement. Few outside the

Palestinian Authority - or even inside it - seem to

believe that the "peace process" will lead to any kind

of settlement. Even Fatah leaders such as Nabil Sha'ath

now argue that the Palestinians need to consider a

return to armed resistance, or a shift to the South

African model of mass popular resistance, also favoured

by prominent Palestinians in Israel.


As for the people who actually won the last elections,

Mahmoud Ramahi, the Hamas secretary general of the

Palestinian parliament, reminded me on Monday that the

US continues to veto any reconciliation with Fatah. He

was arrested by the Israelis barely 24 hours later,

just as talks between the two parties were getting

going in Damascus.


The focus of the Palestinian-Israeli struggle has

shifted over the last 40 years from Jordan to Lebanon

to the occupied territories. With the two-state

solution close to collapse, it may be that the

Palestinians of Israel are at last about to move centre

stage. If so, the conflict that more than any other has

taken on a global dimension will have finally come full circle.




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